Thursday, June 22, 2006

Catching Up With Wednesday

I'm just catching up on Wednesday's games here while working some witchcraft against Ghana...

Unfortunately, with several spots in the second round already locked up, there were some duds - I'm looking at you Argentina and Holland! - but all that should change in roughly 51 minues and 23 seconds when USA-Ghana and Italy-Czech Republic both kick off. It doesn't get much nerve-racking than this.

Portugal 2 Mexico 1

Portugal raies a lot of the same questions Spain does: Are they for real? Will their impressive early form hold? Will they choke when the lights grow brigther? How friggin' hot are women from the Iberian peninsula?

At the moment, Portugal looks awesome. By beating Mexico yesterday, they finished unblemished in group play. On top of that, they beat Mexico while resting nearly half their big name starters with yellow cards. No Ronaldo, no Pauleta, etc. Really, they haven't even been tested yet or broken much of a sweat. They're doing their best to make you believe.

But do you dare?

Like Spain, Portugal has a long history of ultimately disappointing. So much promise. So much potential. Not so much in the end. However, I'm beginning to believe in Portugal for one reason: Luiz Felipe Scolari. 'Big Phil' strikes me as a badass, the type of coach who can take the softest, most gutless of teams and make them hard cases. He reminds me of sort of a Bill Parcells in soccer cleats. (And if there is ever a movie about Scolari, Gene Hackman looks a lot like him.) There is a certain intensity there that just says, "Hey, we're not to be fucked with. My team may be weak-spined Portuguese pansies, but I'm Brazilian. Understand? Now bring me a young Iberian lass immediately."

I don't think mental toughness will be a problem for Portugal for a change. I tink this is a team with a legit shot at the semis, and maybe even more. If they do have one problem, it's that they must play Holland in the second round. That's going to be tough and, on paper at least, a real dandy. A dogfight where either team could survive and it would not be a surprise. So maybe Portugal will disappoint yet again while not exactly being a disappointment. Make sense?

Argentina 0 Holland 0

What a letdown. Both teams had already advanced beforehand and thus had little to play for. So a game that looked like the preeminent matchup of the first round when the tourney began turned into a slow, unimaginative, slugfest with neither team really ever moving beyond the 'feeling the opponent out' stage. Wrap this one in police tape. Nothing to see here.

Ivory Coast 3 Serbia and Montenegro 2

As is often the case in a game with nothing on the line and neither team due to play again, all of a sudden, mysteriously, the goals start coming, and Ivory Cast overcame a 2-0 deficit to win this one in the end. Good for them. One of the saddest stories of the World Cup thus far has been the unfortunate elimination of Ivory Coast, which played valiantly against both Argentina and Holland only to come up short. Are they one of the best sixteen teams in the tournament? Yeah, I'd say they are. Unfortunately, they won't be moving on, but at least they earned their first-ever World Cup win here and now the country can return to full civil war mode. Ah, life goes on.

Serbia and Montengro finished winless and now returns to the Balkans where the two countries will no longer be tied politically, meaning no more S&M jokes. Oh, well.


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